Back in January, Bottega Veneta shocked the fashion commentariat by quitting social media, which has become the primary marketing tool for nearly every fashion brand on the planet. The deletion seemed to be part of a larger shape-shifting strategy for the billion-dollar brand: like its fellow Kering subsidiaries Balenciaga, Gucci, and Saint Laurent, Bottega now shows its collections on its own calendar, separate from the official global schedules created by fashion’s trade organizations, and stage its fashion shows in unorthodox ways. Spring 2021, for example, was shown in a very exclusive physical London “salon” back in October; video of the show, shot by Tyrone Lebon, emerged two months later, in December. The shift has been all the more striking because of where the brand has recently been: under creative director Daniel Lee, its freaky accessories and jumbo clothes drove high-taste editors to act more like influencers. Jumping the social media ship is a risky play to make the brand more enigmatic—and perhaps even redefine the contemporary spirit of desire and luxury.
Now, Bottega has returned to the internet, albeit on its own terms, with Issue, a digital magazine. Coming in at some 107 pages, the standalone site allows users to flip through contributions from a variety of artists and thinkers, from legendary Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki to photographer Tyler Mitchell to Missy Elliott. Almost all are dressed in clothing from past and present Bottega seasons. There are features that might have made for hit Instagram content, like a balloon artist rendering the house’s jewelry in inflatable form, animations of their chain and telephone cord jewelry twisting around, and jelly recreations of BV handbags with accessories slightly visible beneath the translucent gelatin wiggle. There’s sound—the balloon artist’s squeaks, and the luxurious click of the house’s handbags fastening shut—but no text. It’s a bit like a full-bleed, highly produced slate of Instagram stories. Or non-narrative TikToks. Or, you know, a classic coffee table book, just online.
The medium is designed to encourage browsing, rather than scrolling. “Issue is a digital journal,” Lee wrote in an email to GQ. “It’s about allowing people to immerse themselves into our world–by taking their time rather than scrolling past on a feed.”
It’s part nostalgic, but also part reactionary. Consider the recurring image, featuring one of the house’s famously logo-free intrecciato bags, that reads: “When your own initials are enough.” It’s arch with a sprinkling of the avant-garde. (Versions of this image and text recur throughout the zine, like a print advertisement, but of course, the whole project is technically an advertisement. Regardless, they made me think of the cheeky-classic ads for the wacky New York store Charivari, from the 1970s and ’80s.) As Lee told The Guardian, “There is a mood of playground bullying on social media which I don’t really like. I wanted to do something joyful instead…. I don’t want to collude in an atmosphere that feels negative.” Of course, the downside is that none of the content is “shareable”—though perhaps that’s the upside, too. Given how reliant most brands have become on Instagram to shape their image and even make sales, the idea of a mega-brand rejecting the fashion industry lifeline is too good to write off.
But unconventional publishing projects are certainly having a moment. More quaranzines are popping up in the wake of The Drunken Canal. The downtown fashion and art worlds have been quaking in disdain and fear this week at the arrival of The Sober Canal, a nose-thumbing pamphlet response to New York Times media columnist Ben Smith’s expose on Dimes Square media. And the first issue of former Love editor Katie Grand’s new project, the Perfect Magazine, was revealed earlier this week, with a coffee table-like hardbound bookazine created in partnership with Gucci.
But let’s not forget where it all began! This morning, the king of quarantine publishing projects, designer Jonathan Anderson, shared a photo of a pile of the Loewe magazine he releases each four times a year in the brand’s boutiques. “JUST a quarterly magazine,” he wrote in the caption. Fashion, it seems, is having a magazine moment. See more images from the project below, and at the site.